Writers conference is driving force of summer literary scene

At the first Kachemak Bay Writers Conference in 2002, keynote speaker Russell Banks drove a cherry-red Hummer to Homer for a magazine article he wrote.

Now in its 16th year, the annual gathering of poets, writers and readers conference once again becomes the driving force of the summer literary arts scene.

This year’s conference, held Friday-Tuesday at Land’s End Resort, features novelist Jane Smiley, author of “A Thousand Acres,” “The Greenlanders” and “Some Luck.” She starts off the conference Friday night with the keynote address.

Sponsored by the Kachemak Bay Campus, the conference includes craft talks, panel discussions and mini-workshops. Registration is $425 through today and $450 on Friday, with space still available as of Tuesday. For registration and other information, visit http://sites.kpc.alaska.edu/writersconf.

Space also is available for a post-conference workshop with nature writer Susan Fox Rogers. It runs June 13-14 at Tutka Bay Lodge and is $250, including meals, accommodations and water taxi.

Free, open-to-the-public events include a reading and book signing by Smiley at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mariner Theatre and readings by faculty members at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Alice’s Champagne Palace and at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Land’s End Quarterdeck room.

Enrollment includes visitors of all ages from Anchorage, Fairbanks and other Alaska cities and the Lower 48, “people coming for all different reasons, as readers or writers,” said conference and KBC college director Carol Swartz.

Local poets and writers presenting at the conference are Richard Chiappone, Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Nancy Lord and Linda Martin. Other Alaskans speaking are Brendan Jones of Sitka, Don Rearden of Anchorage and Peggy Shumaker of Fairbanks.

Swartz said she’s excited to have British Columbia Poet Laureate Rachel Rose on the faculty.

“She’s doing poetry, memoir and food. This is such a foodie town. People at the conference — the food is like a big deal,” Swartz said of Rose’s talk, “Writing About Food and Family.”

Another interesting faculty member Swartz mentioned is Nina McConighly, a teacher at the University of Wyoming, who writes about cowboys and Indians — the subcontinent of India people, McConighly’s heritage. Born in Singapore, she grew up in Wyoming.

The conference has always featured faculty speaking on craft skills like point of view, character, book endings, poetic form and dialogue. This year’s conference has some new panels, like writing about place.

McConigley presents “Representing Foreign Territories in Fiction,” about how to write about places a writer might not have visited, while Rogers speaks on “Writing from Home.”

Longtime conference faculty member Peggy Shumaker, a poet from Fairbanks, presents a subject not examined before: the human body, particularly its frailties.

In “The Unreliable Body,” Shumaker asks “What happens when our bodies, trusty workhorses, no longer function?” Shumaker will use readings from other writers, including the late Eva Saulitis, a poet who had lectured for years at the conference. Workshops like that bring out the reader in the writer, challenging authors and poets to look at their work in the context of literary artists who explored those subjects before.

“It’s sort of like a triple whammy,” Swartz said. “You end up getting more out of that workshop because you’re reading other work.”

Faculty presented topic ideas last fall, but in the light of current history, Swartz said panel topics take on a new perspective, such as “Writing and Empathy: Making the Connection.” Moderated by Shumaker, the panel will look at the theory that reading fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions.

Another panel that might have a new perspective is “Are You Allowed to Joke About That?” with Kate Carroll de Gutes, a journalist and essayist. She considers how “humor can be used to negotiate tricky subjects, give your readers some breathing room and make a lasting point without sounding like you’re on a soapbox.”

The conference closes next Tuesday with a noon talk by former Alaska Poet Laureate Tom Sexton, “Levitation and Other Wonders.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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